Interview: Dan Hicks
Published: September 21, 2001 03:42 PM
Dan Hicks' manner of speaking is
slow and droll, somewhat like his brand of music. His playful melodies utilize western swing, jazz, folk, blues, jug band and country, with some pop thrown in for good measure.
Though Hicks is a trained jazz drummer, his on-again, off-again band Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks is almost a throwback to a bygone era--one before drum backbeats became prominent. Hicks was an original member of the Haight-Ashbury psychedelic band the Charlatans. The band recorded just one album, but by then Hicks had already left the group to form the Hot Licks, an outfit featuring female vocals, violins, guitars and string bass. The band's first album, 1969's "Original Recordings," was recently reissued with seven additional tracks as "The Most of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks" (Epic/Legacy). The additional tracks were supposed to have been the base for the second Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks album. "We were in the process of getting a manager, and Epic didn't want us so we went to Blue Thumb Records," Hicks said. "Those sessions never got released until now. They sound pretty good after all those years of not hearing them." Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks were fairly active until 1973, and then Hicks did a few solo albums over the next two decades. Two new Hot Licks albums were finally released in the mid-90s. "I toured a lot over those years," he noted, "but not 30 days a month. I played here and there." The real comeback came last year with "Beatin' the Heat" (Surfdog), an album featuring an incredible array of guests who were long-time aficianados of the Hot Licks: Elvis Costello, Rickie Lee Jones, Bette Midler, Brian Setzer and Tom Waits. Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks followed it up with the recently released live album, "Alive & Lickin'" (Surfdog). Though the band canceled its September concerts due to Hicks' exhaustion, Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks expect to hit the road in October. LiveDaily: Why did you leave the Charlatans and form Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks? Dan Hicks: The band broke up and later reformed, but I went on to form the Hot Licks. The Hot Licks were more about folk singing and jazz, more than just the rock and roll of the Charlatans. I was doing a solo thing at the time in San Francisco, and then I added bass, violin and girl singers. I wanted to make different kind of music--my style. Was Django Rheinhardt an influence? A side influence, but more of a Bob Wills (bio | CDs - DVDs - books) thing. Vocally, there was Brazil '66 and the Raettes. It was sort of an evolution of Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band. How would you describe your music today? A light, jazzy, folksy style with a few layers ... hey, I don't have to describe my style. That's for a guy trying to get a job somewhere, and I'm not looking for a job. Is the new live CD representative of the band? Pretty representative. It has good sound. We were on the ball that night. The band can put on a pretty good performance every night. Most of the CD was recorded in Northhampton, Mass., and two tracks were recorded in Chicago a few months earlier. We got in some new songs--not songs that I wrote, but new to us in doing them. How do you travel on the road? It's just the six of us. Myself and the five other musicians: two female singers-percussionists--one of whom also plays violin--violinist-mandolinist, lead guitarist and string bassist. How come no drummer? It's a string band, a folksy, jazzy thing. You don't ask Flatt & Scruggs, "Where is your drummer?" It's a cabaret folk thing with a little bit of tambourine and sandblocks. I've had groups with drummers occasionally, so it's not like I never had a drummer. Six is enough people on the road. A drummer would make it seven, and then you have to carry the drum set too. We fly out to a concert and rent a van for the rest of the leg, the rest of the week and then fly home. We have no roadies. The Charlatans had a classy style of wardrobe with Victorian and wild-west costumes. What is the style of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks these days? The Charlatans carried the idea of a retro look, or old-timey look. It was a taste and looked good. I can't get anybody to wear anything like that now. If they had their choice, it would be T-shirts and jeans. The girls dress well, but the guys are hard-assed, and I'm not going to buy them clothes. I wear slacks, two-toned oxford shoes, a colorful shirt and a vest. What do you consider a good tour? I only like to tour 10 days a month. That's enough. I don't like to be out weeks on end, but I do like performing a lot. A two-week tour is way too long. ► Home